Dear and kind friend,
The Rock of Cashel, with its celebrated noble ruin is one of the greatest lions of Ireland, and was mentioned to me by Walter Scott himself as the most worth visiting after the Abbey of Holy Cross. It is a rock standing isolated in the midst of the plain. It is odd enough, that in one of the distant mountains there is a cavity of just the same size as the rock:according to the legend, the devil bit it out in a rage at losing a soul he was carrying off to hell. As he flew over Cashel he spit the bit out again. Upon this rock M'Cormack, king and archbishop of Cashel, built a castle and a chapel, which are both in remarkable preservation.
In the twelfth century, I think, Donald O'Brien added the church and abbey. The whole forms a most magnificent ruin, in which all the details of Saxon architecture may be studied in the most interesting manner. This has been greatly facilitated by the labours of the son-in-law of the present archbishop, Dr. Cotton, who some months ago had M'Cormack's chapel entirely cleared of the accumulations of dirt and rubbish, and has, at considerable expense, rendered the whole ruin accessible. Nothing can be more strange,I might say, more barbarically elegant,than these grotesque, fantastic, but often admirably executed ornaments. Many sarcophagi and monuments found buried under rubbish or earth, suggests curious and interesting speculations. One is tempted to think that the frightful images, like Indian idols, must have belonged to some earlier religion, did we not know how slowly Paganism gave way to Christianity, how obstinately it still lingers. I have in my possession a little bell, which one of my ancestors brought with him from the prisons of the Inquisition, and on which the Virgin is surrounded with apes instead of angels, some playing the violin, while others are making somersets in the clouds!
I examined the whole ruin minutely, and climbed to the highest accessible point just as the sun was setting over the Devil's Bite. The archbishop had had the kindness to send his librarian to show me the ruin. From this gentleman I learned that the celebrated and often cited Psalter, written in the Irish language, which is mentioned in every Traveller's Guide as the standing wonder of Cashel, is a mere fable; at least, that no such thing was ever known to exist here. This interested me little; but I was really alarmed at hearing that the Catholics entertain the idea of restoring and rebuilding the church, if they could get possession of the ground. Heaven preserve the sacred ruin from their pious designs! On a plain in front of the church stands an extremely ancient and mutilated statue of St. Patrick, on a pedestal of granite. Near this was formerly to be seen the coronation-seat, said to have been brought from Portugal hither, and afterwards sent to the coronation of the Scottish king, Fergus, at Scone, whence Edward I. brought it to Westminster-abbey, where it now is.
At the foot of the Rock of Cashel stand the very curious ruins of Hore Abbey, which, it is asserted, were formerly connected with the castle by subterranean passages. The beautiful proportions and perfect ornaments of a great window are particularly striking.
One of the gentlemen whose acquaintance I made yesterday, a man of good family and engaging manners, offered me his horse to visit the ruins of the Abbey of Athassil, and the park and seat of the wealthy Earl of Llandaff. The excellent hunters soon carried us to the spot: the object, however, was not equal to my expectations. The abbey is certainly a beautiful and extensive ruin; but its situation, in a bog surrounded by ploughed fields without tree or shrub, is so unfavourable as to deprive it of all picturesque effect. Lord Llandaff's park is likewise of great extent, two thousand eight hundred acres, but has no distinguishing beauties. The trees are not fine, water almost entirely wanting, and the modern Gothic house, painted light blue, appear to me hideous. The possessor is a still handsome and interesting man of seventy, who has the great, and in Ireland the rare merit of residing on his property. We found a person who is distinguished in society by the foreign polish of his manners, in the character of a plain farmer, in marsh-boots and water-proof cloak, standing in the rain directing his labourers. This pleased me greatly, for reasons you can guess.
On our return, Captain S gave me a great many interesting details respecting the really atrocious and crying injustice and oppression under which the Irish Catholics labour: it is more intolerable than that which the Greeks suffer from their Turkish masters. The Catholics are not allowed to call their places of worship churches, only chapels; they must have no bells in them,things inconsiderable in themselves, but degrading and insulting in their intent. No Catholic can, as you know, sit in Parliament, nor be general in the army, minister of state, judge, &c. Their priests cannot perform the ceremony of marriage, in cases where one party is Protestant, and their titles are not recognised by the law. The most scandalous thing however is, that the Catholics are forced to pay enormous sums to the Protestant clergy, while they have entirely to
p.406maintain their own, of whom the state takes no notice. This is manifestly one great cause of the incredible poverty of the people. How intolerable must it appear in a country like Ireland, where more than two-thirds of the whole population are most zealously devoted to the Catholic religion!
In the South the proportion is much larger. In the county of Tipperary there are about 400,000 Catholics, and only 10,000 Protestants: nevertheless, the Protestant clergy costs the inhabitants the following sums yearly:
|For about 50 parishes, on average, each||1,500|
Can anybody wonder that such institutions have frequently goaded the unhappy people to despair and rebellion? and yet at every struggle their chains are riveted tighter, and eat more deeply into the bleeding flesh. Wherever you see a beautiful estate and fertile land, if you ask who is the proprietor, you are generally told It is forfeited land, once belonging to Catholics, now to Protestants. O'Connell told me, that not long ago a law was in force, ordaining that no Catholic should hold landed property in Ireland; and if a Protestant could prove before a court of justice that this was in any instance the case, the property was taken from the Catholic and given to him: the only remedy lay in a feigned conversion. But in spite of this bounty on hypocrisy and deceit, land to the value of millions of pounds was transferred into the hands of Protestants by this atrocious process. Is it not marvellous that Protestants, who in a barbarous age severed themselves from the Romish church on account of her intolerance and rapacity, should now, in an enlightened one, cherish the very same vices,thus incurring a far greater comparative load of guilt than they would have had to bear before. Will this monstrosity, the offspring of despotism and hypocrisy, which has so long been nourished by the tears and blood of the world, never be destroyed by more enlightened generations! If ever it is, they will look back upon us with the same sort of pity as we do upon the darkness of the middle ages.
In the afternoon I visited the Catholic dean, an extremely agreeable man, who lived a long time on the continent, and was chaplain to the late Pope. His frank and enlightened conversation excited my surprise; for we are accustomed to think that every Catholic must of necessity be a superstitious bigot. Among other things, he said to me, Believe me, this country is devoted to misfortune. We have scarcely such a thing as a Christian among us: Catholics and Protestants have one common religionthat of hatred.
Some time afterwards, Captain S brought me the latest newspaper, in which my visit to the meeting was mentioned: the few words I said there, and the other speeches, were dressed up with the accustomed charlatanerie, and filled three or four columns of the paper. To give you a specimen of this genre, and at the same time to cut a figure in your eyes by my eloquence, I translate the beginning of the article, in which I am puffed in the same style as that in which a quack doctor sets forth the unparalleled virtues of his pills, or a horse-dealer those of his horses:listen.
As soon as the arrival of the * * * * was known, the president, accompanied by a deputation, repaired to his apartment, to invite him to honour our feast with his presence. Shortly afterwards, the * * * * entered the room. His air is commanding and graceful. He wore moustaches, and although very pale, his countenance is exceedingly pleasing and expressive. He took his seat at the upper end of the table, and, bowing to the company, spoke distinctly and with proper emphasis, though with a foreign accent, the following words: Gentlemen, Although ill and very tired, I feel myself too much flattered by your kind invitation not to accept it with thanks, and to express to you personally the lively interest I take in your struggles on behalf of your country. May God bless this beautiful and richly-gifted land! which offers to every foreigner such manifold enjoyments; but in which I, especially, have reason to acknowledge with the deepest gratitude, the kindness and hospitality which I have every where experienced. May Heaven, I repeat, bless this sorely-tried country, and every true Irishman, whether Catholic or Protestant, who desires the welfare not of any exclusive sect or party, but of Ireland!a welfare that can be attained only by peace, forbearance, and civil and religious liberty, (a standing phrase in these islands.) Gentlemen, fill your glasses and allow me to give you a toast: The King, and Erin go bragh! (This is the old Irish motto, which is on the medal of the order of the Liberator, and signifies Erin for ever!)
The President:Gentlemen, I beg you to participate in my feelings, and to receive the expression of them from me. May our illustrious guest, to whose health we now fill our glasses, if ever he return among us,find us in the enjoyment of equal laws and equal privileges, and in the possession of that internal tranquillity which alone we have combined to obtain. Three times three:The * * * *. I repeated my thanks for the honour done me, and added, That nothing could make me happier than to be an eye-witness of the fulfilment of their and my wishes, in a country which I loved as my own, and quitted with extreme regret.
Now, dear Julia, what do you think of me? Cannot I string common-places as well as another upon occasion? What is no common-place, though reiterated at the end of every one of my letters, is, the assurance of the tender affection with which I am, and ever shall be,